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Published: April 25th 2018
As I write this blog, I am sitting in our first real 4 star hotel in Cuzco Peru. Our previous hotels were nice, about 2.5 stars with 3 if you push, but they were out in the wilderness, especially the last two nights in Urbrama. One this we noticed is Peru is POOR. It Thailand is a third world country, Peru is pushing fourth world. The homes are made of mud brick, have no roofs; I will explain why in a moment, mostly unfinished and just about falling down. The no roof has a cost reason. You see if a home has a roof it is considered complete and is thus subject to government taxation. No roof, not complete, no tax. Since they have no money for taxes, this at least makes sense.
As we drove from town to town the common theme was shoddy construction, abandoned buildings that are obviously still under construction but there is no construction equipment to be seen. These homes or businesses are a little more than a shack, no electricity, no plumbing and no one in residence. It seems the rich in Lima buy land and build a shack or something on the property.
they come back year after year and add a little more until 5 years or even 10 they have a building they can sell or live in. It is hard to believe these once noble people live this way. More on the culture in a later blog, for now come with me to the glorious Machu Picchu.
Wake up call was 4:30 AM, breakfast at 5:00 and departure at 5:30. I ate some local breads with jam and fruit with raisins for energy, as I know this was going to be a high caloric output day. We I grabbed my bags and headed out the weather was beautiful. Warm with a hint on sunrise. I had my camel backpack, walking stick, rain suit, and trusty hat. I was ready for anything.
Our journey took many modes of transportation. First we took the bus to the Machu Picchu train station. Here we boarded an executive class car. There are several classes. The top class is called the Bingham, after Hiram Bingham who in 1911 rediscovered Machu Picchu and set out to preserve and restore the splendor we see today.
The Bingham is a 3 hour ride in luxury.
In the morning there is a sumptuous breakfast, a la The Orient Express. There are tuxedo doffed waiters, beverages of your choice and many other dining amenities. The train includes live music, a cafe car and of course an open observation car all for the low price of $600. The return trip will cost another $600 but you get dinner.
Our class was very nice. We had assigned wide leather seats in an open view car. The windows were huge, the ceiling had viewing sites and there was even a bathroom. White uniformed staff served a variety of drinks and snacks. The ride was only 90 minutes. The cost $60 each way. Since you MUST take the train to the park you either go in the lap of luxury or you can go tourist.
The tourist cars are old, cramped as they are stuffed to overcapacity, no food service and are pulled by old diesel engines that smoke and make noise. Cost $30 round trip. So you have options.
Before I boarded the train the sun came out and the weather was beautiful, so I decided to leave my rain suit on the bus as there was
no way I would need it in this weather. As we pulled out of the station we were treated to spectacular views of the mountains, shrouded in clouds adding to the ambiance of the ride. As we climbed high and higher the once light wispy beautiful clouds turned mean. Before too long it was raining, and did so for the rest of the trip.
The train followed along a very scenic river and since I was in the first car, I stood by the engineers door and was rewarded with a spectacular view of the route. I stood there a few minutes when the conductor opened the door. I assumed he was going to tell me to leave but instead invited me into the engineer compartment!
OK this was this was great. I was sitting with the conductor for about 20 minutes, using my horrible high school Spanish when the engineer asked if I wanted to drive the train. OK this was the chance of a lifetime so he got up and I sat down. I kept the train at a steady 37 KPH and even tooted the horn. They took my picture and I though this was
a memory for all time so I should thank them and take my leave, which I did.
We arrived at Machu Picchu station and it was drizzling. There was no place to hide so I trekked along with everyone else to the bus stop for our next mode of transport. We boarded a relatively modest sized 35 passenger bus, designed to negotiate the many very tight switchback turns up the very narrow mud caked roadway. As I entered the bus the drive motioned to me to sit in the co-pilot seat! This was crazy but I jumped right in and had a birds eye view of the twisting, turning, mud sloshing narrow road. When two buses had to pass one had to pull to the side to let the other pass. Going up had the right of way so the down side drivers mostly pulled over for us.
At the end of the road we entered the tourist control area. Machu Picchu is very crowded and in order to tame the crowds, there is a per day limit for tourists. The ticket control booths issue a one half day pass, either 4 hours in the morning or 4
hours in the afternoon. We had already purchased our morning tickets so we headed to the entrance.
Now it was raining off and on and I though, "OK I can deal with this." I approached the entrance and had to produce my passport. Why I had to produce a passport I have no idea but soon learned that only foreigners had to buy a ticket. South American nationals get in for free. That is really nice.
Well passport safely put away, we followed Raul up, down, over and across Machu Picchu. Machu means old or ancient and Picchu means mountain. So we were actually entering the Citadel of the OLD MOUNTAIN. We crossed a short bridge and the vista opened up to the beauty that is Machu Picchu. We stood there a moment for orientation and we were shown the Agricultural area, the temple area, the living area and of course the famous Temple of the Sun. We marveled at the state of preservation. When Hiram Bingham stood at this very spot Machu Picchu was reclaimed by the jungle. Hardly a stone was visible. The jungle covered everything. Today it is a marvel of ancient engineering. So we
First agriculture. Although it was not self sustaining, much food was grown on terraces overlooking the mountain. The terraces held the little soil there was in place and a series of ingenious canals brought water from the mountains across the valley to nurture the crops, provide drinking water and sacred ritual waters for the entire community. The Citadel was designed for 750 permanent residence but the total never exceeded 500.
From the agricultural area we visited the sacred sites built in the 15th century. There was the Temple of the Sun with it circular wall and two windows that served to designate the summer and winter solstice. We are below the equator so summer begins in December while winter begins in June. The temple was very well preserved but, like everything there, had no roof so I got a little wetter.
From the temple we walked up and up and up some more. The stairs were narrow, wet and slippery. the rain continued and the clouds slowly covered the Citadel adding to the magic. We visited the priest house, the Temple of the Condor, and the sacred plaza where the we find the Intewatana stone.
This stone acted as a sundial and could even point to the solstices. Peru is 13 degrees off the 0 degree meridian. The stone was cut at an angle of 13 degrees. ON the day of the solstices the stone will cast no shadow at noon marking the solstice. Amazing engineering. We also saw the compass stone with pointed perfectly to the 4 cardinal points. We confirmed this with a iPhone compass.
We continued to wide our way her and there and came to the priest's house. This home had a commanding view of the area and had one thing no one else had, indoor plumbing. Within the house there was running water and a flush toilet! Just amazing.
After 4 hours a walking in the rain, I was soaked through and through. It was time to leave the Sapa Inca behind and return to the valley and the return trip to Cuzco.We reversed our travels, bus to train and back to bus. I slept on the train ride as I was pooped negotiating the steep narrow pathways for 4 hours. I will note that Machu Picchu is only at 7500 feet, so even though the trekking was difficult, it was not because of the altitude. No one in the group suffered any ill effects from the altitude.
Our next leg was a 3 hour bus ride back to Cuzco. Of course the rain stopped as soon as we hit the valley. Fortunately with the bus ride came some warm dry air and I was able to dry out by the time we hit the Cuzco hotel. We were all tired. there was no group dinner so I hit up an ice cream stand for dinner and headed back to the room for a much needed rest.
Tomorrow we have the morning free followed by a private tour we booked with Viator of the city and it's highlights. This may actually be a vacation day. Goodnight.
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